Can sanctity run in family genes? This story is about St. Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal. She was the daughter of King Peter of Aragon, who was the son of Yolanda of Hungary, the half-sister of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. There was no social relationship between the two Elizabeths, except for the younger being the namesake of the older. They never even met. I think there is something to be said for a sanctity gene.

Our younger St. Elizabeth was born in 1271 to the prince of Aragon and his wife, Constance of Aragon. Within five years, King James of Aragon died, and the prince became king. As a royal princess, Elizabeth was betrothed to King Denis of Portugal at the age of ten. The celebration was formalized when she was 17. She moved from Aragon to the capital city of Coimbra, Portugal.

Elizabeth had always pursued Catholic religious practices. She attended Mass, read the entire Divine Office and cared for the poor and sick. Denis was definitely not a religious man, practicing spousal abuse and having a number of mistresses. Elizabeth prayed for him and the children for years before seeing a conversion.

Not only was she a devoted Christian, Elizabeth was a brilliant student. She understood architectural design and engineering and was capable of overseeing the design of several churches and hospitals. She learned to communicate in several languages. She had a lovely singing voice. In the capital city of Coimbra, Elizabeth built hostels for the poor, a hospital, a house for repentant wayward women, a free school for girls, and a hospice for abandoned children. She built bridges in dangerous places, visited and procured doctors for the ill, and endowed poor girls for the convent or for marriage. She even had a tiara and wedding gown available for poor young women to look lovely on their wedding days.

Elizabeth had a serious interest in politics. With her husband, she was a decisive conciliator of the Treaty of Alcanices, which fixed the borders between Portugal and Castile. She also participated as an arbitrator between King Fernando IV of Castile, her son-in-law, and King James II of Aragon, her own brother. Her ultimate arbitration was between Denis and their son, Alfonso, during the Civil War, 1322-1324. The argument here was wone of jealousy over Denis’ illegitimate son, Alfonso Sanches. The later was eventually exiled and the king and his son were reunited. It was about this time that Denis finally asked forgiveness for his terrible deeds. He died the next year.

After his death, Elizabeth retired to the Poor Clare monastery in Coimbra, which she had founded in 1314. Becoming a Franciscan tertiary, she took care of the poor and sick, as she always had, until she died at about sixty-five years of age. One last time she had to be a conciliator, in 1336, when her son, the king of Portugal, Alfonso IV, fought against the king of Castile, Alfonso XI, the husband of Alfonso IV’s daughter, Maria. The Castilian king was an abusive husband and Maria was the victim. Elizabeth negotiated that situation successfully. She fell ill right afterwards and died on July 4 of the same year.

Queen Elizabeth was beatified in 1526 and canonized in 1625. Her feast day was originally July 4, the anniversary of her death. But in 1694, the date was moved to July 8 so that it would not conflict with the octave of Saints Peter and Paul. In 1955, the octave was abolished. Fourteen years later, the feast was moved back to July 4. In the US, it was moved up to July 5 so as not to compete with the national holiday.